E11 – Scene Rubric – What Is Conflict? (video, show notes, transcript)
In this episode, V.E. Griffith and Miss Catherine M.H. discuss the importance of Conflict in your story using the Revision Wizards Scene Rubric as a guide to good conflict.
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Wheel of Time (series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
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Miss Catherine M.H. 0:01
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m Miss Catherine M H. And this ugly dude over here is V.E. Griffith. This is episode 11. And today we’re going to talk briefly about the next section on our scene rubric. And that is conflict. Dun dun, da dun.
V.E. Griffith 0:23
Okay, so say I’m a new writer, and I want to learn about craft. What is conflict?
Miss Catherine M.H. 0:31
That is a great question that I have absolutely no answer to. That’s just a joke. So conflict. Simply put, it’s kind of the start of a problem. It can be something simple, like, I’m really thirsty, but I’m way too lazy to get off the couch and go get a drink. Or it can be something really hectic. Like, there is a bad guy who broke into my house. And now he’s in my house. So conflict really depends too on whether or not you’re doing things from a scene point of view, or the overall story point of view. You know what I mean?
V.E. Griffith 1:13
No, know, tell me the difference.
Miss Catherine M.H. 1:17
Fine, new writers, man.
V.E. Griffith 1:20
Aren’t we terrible?
Miss Catherine M.H. 1:22
So scenes are small little chunks of your story. So they could be you know, chapters or they can be like, even smaller. So really just depends on each writer. But inside of those scenes, you will usually have what, not one, all three of the Cs. So you’ll have the conflict choice and the consequence, in order to start anything, there needs to be a conflict or that situation that trouble that starts that changes the normal course of whatever is happening in that day. So if you’re walking down the street, and it starts to rain, bam, you’ve got a conflict, you’re walking down the street, you’re in the rain. So it can be something simple once again. But if we’re looking at the overall of the story, your conflict is very important. This is going to be the reason you’re writing the story. So that conflict can be that moment where the whole thing takes off. That’s called the …
V.E. Griffith 2:29
Miss Catherine M.H. 2:31
Those words, thanks. Thanks, noobied. So the inciting incident is usually the start of that conflict. So it can be building, building, building, and then bam, the reader is hit with exactly what’s going to be going on in that story.
V.E. Griffith 2:47
And the neat thing for me is that the inciting incident can be anything that starts your story, it can be I have one where the inciting incident is the main character losing his job. It can be your character tripping over a murder scene, it can be getting into a fight, it can be a space explosion, it can be literally anything that knocks the characters out of their routine and into something different.
Miss Catherine M.H. 3:24
Absolutely, I have for my space opera, the opening scene, is the fact that my character is trying to overcome a fear of being in tight spaces so claustrophobic. And he has to sit in a box in order to try to condition himself to be able to sit inside of a spaceship, because he’s not going to be able to sit in the spaceship, if he can’t sit in a closed space. So my conflict for that scene starts off with bam, he can’t sit still in this box and has to break himself out. But that also leads to the big part of the conflict of the story, where he has to be able to move himself into uncomfortable positions in order to get further in life. So it sets it up.
V.E. Griffith 4:16
So the inciting incident sets up the conflict. But in some cases, depending on the writer, and depending on the story doesn’t need necessarily to have anything to do with the conflict. For example, in your steampunk, which I’ve read, or at least which I’ve read part of, the the inciting incident is our heroine tripping over a murder. But the real conflict at least in that scene is interpersonal, between her and the antagonist or between another character. So the the murder is ancillary to the story, it gets things going, but the real conflict is the relationship that those two characters have. So you don’t necessarily have to have an inciting incident that is directly related to your conflict. It’s okay if you do. But as a storytelling device, you don’t have to. In my writing, the urban fantasy that I’m doing, the character who loses his job that has nothing that has basically nothing to do with the rest of the story. So it’s just, it kicks him out of his day. And it gets him out of his routine. And it makes him act and react, and forces him into making choices.
Miss Catherine M.H. 5:41
So yeah, so that big major conflict of the story, an easy way to say it is it takes up that first quarter of your book. So that conflict will be found, that big one for the story will be found in that small section of how much of the story you write. So that conflict should be in that zone, because your readers are going to be looking for it, or at least expecting something really important to be happening for your story to take on. If you’re taking over 100 and something pages to get to any kind of real big conflict that would propel your entire story forward. You might want to think about maybe you need to move up where you start your story, because I’ve read a few where you’re reading and you’re like, I don’t why am I reading this? Eragon, great example, first 80 to 100 pages could be absolutely cut out of the book.
V.E. Griffith 6:44
Yeah, I’ve seen stories like that. And I don’t want to name names. But there are plenty of stories out there, where nothing happens for the first 100 pages where we see characters interacting with each other, but it’s their normal, humdrum life. Or we see lots and lots of world building in description, or we see backstory, but those things don’t drive the story forward. They give. They give world building, but they don’t. They don’t make the story happen. And in the beginning, we really want to make the story happen to grab the reader’s attention. So what what can you do to add an amp up your conflict during the revision process since we since we try to focus here on revision?
Miss Catherine M.H. 7:45
Okay, so if we’re talking on a scene level, not every single scene needs to have that, Oh, my God got punching conflict, there is that big misconception that everything has to be exactly perfect. As writers were really looking for that as readers, you just want things to like, catch your attention and to keep going. So they don’t always need to be punch perfect. But with that said, they also can’t be boring. Like you can’t have your character walking down the street and a rainstorm happens. So he stands under the closest thing until the rain stops, like, cool, you could have that happen. But if he’s walking down the street, and he’s holding some rare book, and all of a sudden the car passes by and is splashing him under that zone, you’re upping the conflict. So it’s just like little things of, as I like to say, how can you torture your character more. So they’re having a bad day, they grab a hot cup of coffee, they take a drink, they burn their tongue, so just add little extra things to make the conflict just a little bit worse is how I like to do it.
V.E. Griffith 9:03
So in underdeveloped on the rubric we have, we have a description that says the protagonist does not face an initial conflict, the event pushing the character out of the status quo is missing. And that can be an example of that would be what an old writing teacher of mine called a bed to bed scene where the you follow the character through his day from when he gets out of bed to when he goes back to bed, but basically nothing happens. There’s nothing that pushes him out of the ordinary. On the flip side, an excellent conflict in a scene or even in a story is one where the initial conflict catches the protagonist and the reader by surprise you don’t see it coming. It creates some kind of unavoidable situation so the character has to deal with it. The Rare Book catches on fire in the rain.d And so you can’t, you can’t simply walk away and ignore it. And it should logically set the stage for the characters choice later in the story, or later in the scene, does he dunk the burning book into water, which will damage the book, but maybe save the information in it? Or does he stick it in his coat pocket where the fire might go out? But it might catch him on fire? You know, so, yeah, there there, there are all kinds of ways that you can do it. But it needs to be something that pushes the character out of his humdrum and catches him by surprise.
Miss Catherine M.H. 10:41
And then an interesting thing with conflict, if you set up a conflict, and then don’t do anything about it at all through the entire book that creates your plot holes. So when you’re going through, and you’re like, why is this not working? Look for if you set up a conflict, and then never had a choice or a consequence for it, because then either A, you can just remove that out of the story, or you need to write that section in. So if you’re going to do the teaser that something’s happening, well, eventually, you’re gonna have to give that to the reader of what happened from it. And you can’t always have it off screen.
V.E. Griffith 11:24
The favorite? Yeah, the favorite example from you know, from plenty of writing is, is Chekhov’s gun. If you see the gun, in Act One, somebody’s going to get shot in Act Three. And if you have the gun there, and nothing happens, that’s a problem. And that’s something that readers are going to notice. And they’re going to be, they’re going to be dissatisfied with. Because for them, the story is not going to work. Even if they can’t put their finger on why your average reader is not going to go, oh, that’s Chekhov’s gun. And we don’t, you know, it, nothing happens with it, they’re gonna go and the story didn’t work, there was too much unresolved. Didn’t like it. So you want to, but it’s a fine balance, you want to keep your story moving, keep enough questions open in the readers mind, so that they continue reading the story, or reading the series, if that’s what you’re writing, but you want to close enough of your story, every act or every book, so that the reader feels satisfied that things happened, and they got resolved. I remember reading, maybe it was book 10, out of Wheel of Time, maybe it was book 11, I don’t remember. And I got really, really angry, because there were four or five major character threads that were going on all at once. And I was having to keep track of all of this stuff. And at the end of the book, Jordan opened another thread. But there was no, there was no resolution to any of the other things that were going on in the book. And it just really frustrated me because it was like, Oh, my God, you know, we’ve left all of these open loops. And I understand having read the rest of the story, sort of why that was necessary. But in the moment when it’s going to be two years before I get another installment. I was left upset and unsatisfied. And I thought about, you know, why am I reading this when I don’t get any kind of satisfaction. So if you’re going to have a conflict, you need to find some way to resolve it over the course of your scene over the course of your act over the course of your story.
Miss Catherine M.H. 13:52
And another way to also help with that is to do the band aid. So they know that that conflicts there. They can’t quite do anything yet. So they keep trying to just put a little band aid on put some duct tape over that. So it’s not spraying water all over from like a pool. Like you just try to fix a small piece, they’ll get back to it. So like this way the reader knows that that’s still looming. They’re still there in the mind, but they can’t do anything yet because they don’t have anything to do. So you can do those little hints those are a little foreshadows the little conversations of man, I wish I could like I wish I had time to focus on this. So this way, your readers will still know that, okay, they’re not just leaving me hanging. They weren’t just throwing that weird stuff in there just because. There’s a point to it.
V.E. Griffith 14:48
Yeah, that keeps the reader’s attention focused. And in some ways it keeps the writers attention focused so that you remember to close these loops and get these things done. Because you know, Leaving readers unsatisfied is the last thing that we want to do.
Miss Catherine M.H. 15:05
V.E. Griffith 15:08
Well, unless we’re unless we’re doing it intentionally in setting up a conflict for the next book that we want them to buy. So
Miss Catherine M.H. 15:15
V.E. Griffith 15:17
But then, yeah, but even then, when you get to the end of your first book in a series or your second book in a series, and you want them to buy the next one, and go ahead and read through, there still needs to be some kind of resolution of some of the elements of the story, even if the overall conflict has not been resolved.
Miss Catherine M.H. 15:46
V.E. Griffith 15:48
Alrighty, I think that about does it for today. If you want to find us online, you can support us on Patreon at patreon.com/revisionwizards, where we have a bunch of different rewards go in from a shout out on a podcast and a private feed with some bonus episodes, all the way up to professional editing for your story.
Miss Catherine M.H. 16:08
Yeah, you can find show notes and transcripts at revisionwizards.com. And if you want to reach out to me individually, you can find me at scribes-pen.com
V.E. Griffith 16:21
And you can find me individually at vegriffith.com. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
Miss Catherine M.H. 16:27